How to see the good in your classroom: look for it!


So you have your classroom set up for Positive Behaviour Management. The students understand your system. You have greeted them at the door, and you have managed to find some good behaviour to commend by noting someone’s name on the positive side of your board. As you hasten over to write their name on the board you remind the students to sit down, get their books out and write down the title, date and learning objective, or whatever your starting ritual is.

The board looks like this: img_1238-2

Now you need to be vigilant. You must observe your class like a hawk, waiting to pounce. You must keep your eyes open, careful that nothing goes unnoticed.

Ad what you should be vigilant for, looking out for, and ensuring that you comment upon is anything positive which happens in your classroom.  You will obviously notice poor behaviour, engagement or work, but will not draw attention to it publicly.

This can feel unnatural if you are accustomed to scanning the room and automatically commenting on, or reproaching kids for, errors or omissions:

“Take your coat off, Lee- I shouldn’t have to tell you again.”

“Put your chewing gum in the bin, Jodie.”

“Get your books out, Dom – what are you waiting for?”

Instead you’ll be looking around and commenting on positive things:

“Well done for getting your books out promptly, Lee.”

“Jodie’s put her gum in the bin without being asked – well done!”

“Well done, this table. Excellent! All ready to go! While we’re waiting for the others, here’s something you can do…” (Write names up.)

As you start to teach, remain vigilant. Personally, although it does have its uses, I discourage hands-up because I believe that it means that about 20-30% of  the class do all the work and 10-20% of the students, confident that they will not be called upon to answer a question, mentally switch off. Call upon everyone in the class at least once per lesson. If they do well, write their names on the positive side. If they volunteer and give the right answer there is not always much point in noting down their contribution.

As for that poor behaviour, initially with minor things try and catch their eye and mime taking a coat off, or gum and point to bin or other pointing. Once the lesson has started, if a student’s behaviour is poor

There is always something worth commenting on, if you look for it.

a) pick up a book, and look back at previous pages. If work has improved or presentation is better, say so. “Gosh, look at how much better than at the beginning of the year! It looks like a different student!” Then you drift over to the board and write the student’s name on the positive side. (Pick up a book and look back. If it hasn’t improved or has got worse, mutter quietly “Hmmm.” or “Shame.”. Put book back and move on. Lack of positivity replaces sanction.)

b) Notice that a student has quickly completed a good amount of work. Exclaim at how well they are doing, pointing out three things that are positive, and then ask for something extra: “Wow, that’s really good – you’ve remembered all the capital letters here, your spelling is really accurate and the whole thing is very clearly written. Now just check this adjectival ending here…” (Look carefully at neighbour’s work, which is not as good. Look at it carefully, pause, then move on. Lack of positivity replaces sanction.)

c) Stop as if in shock and point at something in a student’s book. “That is a brilliant word to use here! How did you know that word? Oh, I mentioned it in passing, didn’t I? well done for remembering.” head for the board – the kids will all want to know the word.

Soon your board will look something like this:


(I made up this class by the way – these are not my students, but the board is very typical.)

Sam made an excellent point which merited a house point by itself, but continued to make good contributions. Bilal had a storming lesson, and in addition to getting a house point, was kept behind for a short extra congratulation – he’s not always that great. He goes away with a good memory of the lesson, and a will to do well in the next one. Seth was talking while I was teaching but was nudged in the ribs by Lewis, who was paying attention, and so doesn’t get more than a warning, like Max and Rosie.

If I do have to keep a student back for a negative conversation, I also try and keep back someone who has done well. I congratulate them quickly, being SPECIFIC in my praise, and dismiss before having the negative conversation, and challenging them to win a house point in the next lesson. This negative conversation can be framed positively, and I will tackle that in another post.

Within a short time of using these techniques consistently, most people see a profound difference in the quality of behaviour in their classrooms, as well as in the quality of the relationships.

I won’t pretend that it doesn’t take a lot of care and concentration at first, and will be a real effort, but once you see change happening, you will find that positivity becomes your default position and habitual. And even when you slip, and start moaning, you will know how to get it back…


Good luck!


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